Where Is the Line? A Conversation that We Should Have in Using OERs in Online CBE Courses

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

The openness of Open Educational Resources (OERs) sometimes makes the concept of copyright and fair use even more confusing for instructional designers and instructors in online courses. In this discovery session, the presenter will share her experiences in using OERs in designing online competency-based education (CBE) courses and facilitate a discussion about the use of OERs with fair use in online CBE courses.​

Extended Abstract

Open Educational Resources (OERs) have been highly promoted and widely adopted in higher education in the past decades. Higher education institutions and instructors have seen the benefits of using OERs in the classes. For example, instructors can adapt OERs to meet the learning objectives in their own courses. On the other hand, students also embrace OERs mainly because of the cut in their finance and convenience. The latest announcement of New York State’s decision to invest 8 million dollars in spreading the use and development of OERs is a breakthrough for the use of OERs.

However, there are still some muddy spots when it comes to the use of OERs in higher education. First of all, in the survey of the Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education 2015-16, Allen and Seaman (2016) indicated that 58.1% of the participants (over 3,000 faculty members) were not aware of OERs. Furthermore, 66.3% of the participants were not aware of OERs and Creative Commons. With a deeper inquiry, the survey showed that 65.7% of the participants were not aware of open textbooks and 70.6% was not aware of open textbooks and creative commons. Therefore, it is still essential to help more faculty learn how they can start to use OERs in their courses. Therefore, the presenter will facilitate a brief discussion about approaches that instructional designers can adopt to help faculty learn more about OERs.

Second, the concept of copyright and fair use is still not clear to many instructors when they are developing courses, and the idea of OERs can become even more confusing to faculty. Many faculty members will turn to librarians and instructional designers for further assistance regarding copyright and fair use for their course materials. How to help faculty identify the materials they found online are considered OERs has become a need for librarians and instructional designers. As a result, higher institutions started to created various tip sheets about copyright and fair use not merely for students but also for instructors. However, when the course development is related to CBE programs, the presenter has found that the concept of copyright and fair use is even more blurred. In addition, it has become a challenge to find bite-size OERs for CBE courses. In this discovery sessions, the presenter will show several examples of the tip sheets from different institutions to help the audience see what others have done. After viewing the examples, the presenter will facilitate another discussion with the audience about copyright and fair use, especially in CBE course development. The following questions are designed to facilitate the discussion:

  1. A professor wants to use the documentary published by PBS. Is it OK for her to embed the video in the learning management system? OR should she just use the link?
  2. An instructor wants to use several YouTube videos recorded by another professor in a different institution in his CBE courses. Is it acceptable?
  3. When developing the CBE quizzes, the instructor just thought about copying questions from the quiz bank of the textbook he uses for his face-to-face course. Is it acceptable?
  4. Can you come up with some other cases that you have encountered? What is your solution?
  5. What are the most important messages that higher education instructors should know about copyright and fair use?

The third concern is about the ownership of the products. When faculty create course materials, they own the materials. However, does the university also own the materials? This question also becomes debatable, especially in the Internet era when most of the course materials are uploaded in the learning management system. Another question is about the students’ products. When the students create exemplary work for the course projects or assignments, can instructors use it as an example for future courses? Again, the presenter will facilitate a discussion with the audience about the ownership of the materials and products. A review of the regulations about course material ownership will be provided before the discussion.

This discovery session is not aimed to provide answers to the concerns of using OERs with fair use in CBE courses or serves as legal advice.  It is designed to have an in-depth discussion about the copyright and fair use in using OERs in online CBE courses with the review of current regulations and different approaches that different institutions have adopted. The audience will have opportunities to exchanges ideas and concerns. In addition, the presenter will also share some resources that could be helpful for the audience to start considering using OERs for their online CBE courses with fair use in the future.


Allen, E. & Seaman, J. (2016). Opening the textbook: Educational resources in U.S. higher education, 2015-16. Retrieved from https://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/openingthetextbook2016.pdf

American University Library (2010). What faculty need to know about copyright for teaching. Retrieved from https://www.american.edu/library/documents/upload/Copyright_for_Teaching.pdf

Elkin-Koren, N. & Fischman-Afori, O. (2014). Taking users’ rights to the next level: A pragmatist approach to fair use. Retrieved from http://www.cardozoaelj.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Elkin-Koren-Fischman-Afori-Final.pdf

Holmes, G. & Levin, D. A. (2000). Who owns course materials prepared by a teacher or professor? The application of copyright law to teaching materials in the Internet age. 2000 BYU Educ. & L. J. 165. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.law.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1110&context=elj  

Tobin, T. J. (2014). Training your faculty about copyright when the lawyer isn’t looking. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 17(2). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer172/tobin172.html